Plus: Bonus Tips for Teaching Kids to Write Left-Handed
About 11 percent of the population is left-handed. As a result, the world is often designed with a right-hand bias, causing our left-handed friends to face daily obstacles for everyday tasks. If you are right-handed, you may not have even considered these challenges. There’s a lot to learn about hand dominance in childhood and beyond.
A Right-Handed World
- Credit card machines have the card swipe on the right.
- On a measuring cup, you hold it in the right hand to view the cups/ounces measurements, but if you hold it with the left, you see the metric readings.
- Pants have a flap that covers the left side of the zipper.
- Spiral and 3-ring binders block writing from the left.
- Manual can openers and pencil sharpeners have right side cranks.
- Computer keyboards place the number pad on the right side and most computer mice are also designed for righties.
- Measuring tape shows the numbers upside down when held in the left hand.
- Scissors are designed so that the top cutting blade is on the right, which works for counterclockwise cutting, but left-handed people tend to cut clockwise.
The Background of Hand Dominance
Hand dominance can emerge as early as 2 years old, but some children do not establish their hand dominance until 4 to 6 years old. In fact, left-handed kids typically take a little longer to develop.
Left-handedness can run in families. Two left-handed parents have a 40% chance of having a left-handed child compared to 10% for right-handed parents. Similarly, there is also a higher percentage of left-handed boys than girls.
To make things a little more interesting, some individuals have a mixed dominance. This means that they switch hands depending on the task. They may write left-handedly but throw a ball with their right hand. Hand dominance may even be different than foot and/or eye dominance.
Understanding Your Child’s Hand Dominance
Determining hand dominance becomes more important as a child ages and starts to engage in more refined fine motor skills, like drawing and writing activities. Below are some tips for helping parents to determine the hand dominance of their child(ren).
- When doing everyday self-care activities like brushing hair, brushing teeth, or using a spoon/fork, which hand does the child use?
- If an object is placed directly in front of the child (not to the right or left and not too close), which hand do they reach with? Be sure not to influence the reach by being to one side of the child.
- Watch to see which hand the child tends to hold items with and which hand they tend to manipulate the object. For instance, which hand do they use to unscrew a lid when holding a jar?
- Be mindful of object designs that may influence their hand use. For instance, computer mice or scissors are typically easier to use in the right hand because of the design, so do not use these activities as a baseline for hand dominance.
- Studies have shown that infants who only sucked their right thumb tend to be right-handed. However, this pattern does not hold true for left-thumb suckers who may be either right- or left-hand dominant.
Helping Your Left-Handed Writer
When writing, right-handed individuals tend to pull the pencil down and from left to right, or in a counterclockwise direction, so that it moves naturally into the hand for most writing strokes. Left-handed individuals need to push the pencil away from the hand, which is a more tiring movement. As a result of the different writing mechanics, special consideration needs to be given to left-handed children when teaching drawing or writing skills. Below are some parent and teacher tips and tricks to help your left-handed writer.
- Left-handed students should be placed on the left side of tables or on the left side of a row, so that they do not bump other right-handed students when completing school-work. However, also ensure that the student has enough space on the left to rest their arm during writing.
- Writing paper should be tilted toward the right 30-45 degrees (or more) to help the student see their work better and minimize smudging.
- Discourage the “hook” wrist position that many left-handed writers use. This position will cause pain and fatigue with prolonged writing. Instead, keep the wrist straight. Using a slant board might be helpful.
- Left-handed children should be encouraged to hold a pencil higher on the pencil shaft, about 1-1.5 inches from the tip, so that they can see the pencil tip when writing. A rubber band can be placed on the pencil shaft to show the child where to hold.
- Because a left-handed child will move their hand over words that they have written, use smudge resistance pens and pencils. Whiteboards are difficult to use as the child will accidentally erase as they write.
- Take paper out of 3-ring notebooks when writing if possible. The binding on the left creates an obstacle.
- Use a handwriting circurrulum to teach handwriting strokes. The natural tendency for left-handed individuals is to move in a clockwise direction, which can result in letter formation confusion and letter reversal.
- Many teachers will have students use a finger to help with word spacing. This is very difficult for a left-handed student. Instead, use a popsicle stick to hold a space between words or encourage the student to visualize writing an “O” between words to create space.
If you have concerns about fine motor or writing skills for your child(ren), Enablr Therapy has a team of occupational therapists that can assess your child’s fine motor, visual motor, and handwriting skills to ensure that your child is on track.
Learn more about Enablr’s school based therapy services.
Porac, C. (2016). Fetuses and Newborns: What Behaviors Predict Handedness? Elseevier SciTech Connect. Retrieved from https://scitechconnect.elsevier.com/fetuses-newborns-behaviors-predict-handedness/
Starr, B. (2005). “What are the genetics of being right vs left handed?” The Tech Interactive. Retrieved from https://www.thetech.org/ask-a-geneticist/ask116